As I told you before I have a thing for writing notes and letters. I wrote my first love letter when I was 17 (not counting the “Do you like me? O Yes / O No (tick the right box)” scribbles passed around in primary school).
It was a little bit of a tricky enterprise as I had never even said ‘hello’ to this guy. We were in totally different social groups: he was in the cool, smoking, not-bothering-to-eat-in-the-canteen one (back when smoking was still considered cool), and me well, I was being me. Not a nerd exactly, a little different maybe, but certainly not cool.
Too shy to say hello
To be honest I wasn’t going in totally blind since I always caught him looking at me whenever I turned his way. So I had an inkling that he might fancy me. And there was the fact that, besides being incredibly cool, he was also a little different: he didn’t have a school bag like regular kids, but instead carried his books in a plastic bag. But since I was too shy to say hello to him, the two A4 pages I sent him (I’m not kidding around when I write letters) were very likely a little unexpected.
I did wait until after our final exams. So in case he’d pull a Dangerous Liaisons/Cruel Intentions one on my letter (skip to 1:17), I wouldn’t have to convince my parents we’d need to move to a different country.
Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. In fact he phoned me to ask me out. (Word of advice: don’t go see Basic Instinct on your first date (my pick). Especially if just minutes before you’ve exchanged your first ever ‘hello’s’.)
With this first fruitful written revelation, my writing-letters-(and later e-mails)-tendency blossomed. I’ve always done it. Not just bumbling, unexpected utterances of love, but always unexpected and always to reach out to someone.
Remember the notes I sometimes leave to strangers to let them know that I enjoy their garden? The letters I’m talking about now are of a slightly different kind: they make things happen by reaching out.
Have you ever read a book and wished the protagonist was a friend of yours? That you were able to talk to them? When I get that feeling, I know it’s a good book.
About 15 years ago I did make that happen. I read a book based on a true story about a guy who wanted to escape the 1950’s narrow-mindedness: the class structure, the roles, the unescapableness of your destination. He simply left and joined the Foreign Legion. Undoubtedly he suffered a great deal fighting in Algeria for the French, but the idea of carving your own path, choosing to do something completely different appealed to me greatly.
He survived and after his discharge he started working for the French secret service, his specialty being seducing women to extract information. Basically, he became James Bond.
I wrote an email to the publishing house that I loved the book and apparently they forwarded it to this man, the book’s protagonist. At that time he was in his 60’s and living in France. He answered my email and we wrote each other a couple of times. I couldn’t believe I was actually talking to this great adventurist!
If you’re enthusiastic about something and express your feelings in a genuine way, I’m convinced that people will respond positively. OK, so if you write a dedicated letter to Justin Bieber, you probably won’t get the response you hoped for. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write.
Start a revolution
Sometimes it doesn’t work out. I wrote to a professor asking him advice about how to start a revolution. Hold your horses; not the Storming-the-Bastille kind, but more of a culture change. He didn’t get back to me.
Of course I was a little more elaborate than “Dear sir, please advise me on how to start a revolution”, but still words like ‘revolution’ combined with ‘global’ might have rung some alarm bells. Though thus far, the AIVD (Dutch national security) haven’t knocked on my door (or crushed it with a battering ram). I’m still glad I wrote the letter. It gives me a sense of progress.
Also the email to a café to ask if they could please put more water in the bowl of their goldfish remains unanswered.
But I’d rather have people think I’m odd or foolish than regret missed opportunities.**
Heart-felt and sincere
If all those times I would have been afraid that people would make fun of me, or think I was an obsessed fan or a stalker, I wouldn’t have dated that cool guy in school, I wouldn’t have corresponded with the protagonist of a book I loved. I would never have met one of my favourite illustrators in New York and been invited to his studio, or gotten advice from an acclaimed screenwriter. Also the letter to the singer of a band to ask how she overcame her blushing would have been left unwritten. (I still have her hand written letter).
If your message is heart-felt and sincere, it will come across. Even if you don’t get a reply. And if the receiver acts like an asshole, just realise that that reaction might be out of social awkwardness. Or they aren’t worthy of your attention and you can just let it go.
** I might appear to be this bold and forward person, but like everyone else, there are tons of things I didn’t do. I didn’t do them because I was afraid, or because I feared what people would think of me or because I thought I’d do it another time. But you won’t. Just do it now.
(also my courage on paper greatly exceeds my face-to-face one)